PORT TAMPA — The Wenczel Tile factory was torn down, but its memory lives on in the newly-constructed Jefferson Westshore Apartments that were built in its place.
Tiles, beams and other pieces of the landmark Port Tampa factory decorate the upscale new complex, which began leasing in July.
Black-and-white photographs of workers hang on walls in the lobby. Pipes from the factory ceiling were used to create a tree sculpture and bench outside the leasing office. Two of the wrought-iron window frames from the old building decorate concrete walls surrounding the swimming pool and outdoor lounge.
“Anytime we develop anything, there’s a story behind what you’re building,” said Denise McCormick, regional director for Virginia-based Jefferson Apartment Group. “For us, it’s just natural to do that. You don’t want to lose the history and the memories that Tampa residents have.”
For decades, Wenczel Tile produced high-quality tiles for kitchens, bathrooms and floors at its 11-acre site at 6608 S. West Shore Blvd. In 1993, the company declared bankruptcy and the factory sat empty for years.
While it was in business, the plant employed many Port Tampa residents.
Carol Curtiss, a Port Tampa historian and activist who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, said she was happy to hear the apartment complex preserved memories of the factory.
The previous owner of the property allowed neighbors to come in and salvage some of the old bricks, too, she said. Many people came to get bits and pieces of the old plant.
Curtiss said she is happy Jefferson Westshore is bringing more people to the Port Tampa community. The old factory had sat empty for a long time.
“We were happy, not to see the factory go, but to get a good use out of the property,” Curtiss said.
Angel Forester, leasing specialist for Jefferson Westshore, said people who used to live in the area have dropped by, wondering about the new complex that stands where the old factory once was.
“A lot of the people that still live in Port Tampa really appreciate this because it’s something they grew up with,” Forester said about photos and sculptures adorning the property.
She said the 246-unit complex has about 44 residents so far. Construction mostly is finished, but some landscaping and signs need to go up before the complex is fully completed.
The gated community is made up of four, three-story buildings. It has one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with rent starting at $1,070 a month, Forester said.
McCormick said Jefferson Apartment Group chose to build in Port Tampa because of its convenient South Tampa location. She predicts more and more people will move into the area in coming years, especially when they learn about all the area has to offer.
She hopes the fond memories the community has of the Wenczel Tile plant will help attract potential residents to Jefferson Westshore.
“If they’re looking for a home,” McCormick said, “it’s a home with history.”